Neither Horsham or Ashford United could be separated as both sides played out a goalless draw in what will no doubt be a hard-fought point earned at Culver Road this afternoon.
The hosts and the visitors entered the game in second and third place respectively looking to further cement their place in the play-off places and thus defeat for either set of managers was unimaginable as Dom Di Paola set about with a cagey formation against former Horsham Assistant Manager Tommy Warrilow’s side.
Despite both teams dropping a place in the league following Hastings United’s 1-3 win away at Three Bridges, both teams would have been happy with a point during a game in which each side battled hard and maintained a disciplined approach in keeping the other at bay, with Josh Pelling and opposite number Sam Mont rarely tested.
In the reverse fixture earlier in the season, The Hornets overcame a 2-0 deficit at half time to win 2-3 thanks to a late, late show in which Tyrell Richardson-Brown scored the winner in the last seconds of injury time. Shortly after, then manager Gary Alexander was sacked, and John Maggs’ former right-hand man, Warrilow was brought in to replace him and so far it has proved a masterstroke, with the Kent side putting together a string of impressive results to bring themselves firmly in the play-off running.
It was the visitors who started strongly, quickly hemming Horsham back and ensuring they had little time on the ball to make any impact, and on eleven minutes, dangerman Danny Parish succeeded in breaking the offside trap, but while his run took him just wide of Pelling’s goal, he managed to keep the ball in play and snatch his shot straight at the Horsham shot-stopper, who blocked well, yet Jerald Aboagye was then unable to take advantage of the rebound, losing his footing as the ball flew backwards towards him with Horsham eventually clearing their lines.
Two minutes later, Harvey Sparks’ produced a magnificent last ditch challenge inside the six yard box as he cleared following Pelling’s save from Toby Ajaja’s shot, while Parish tried his luck soon afterwards with a weak effort that had Pelling scrambling down to his left hand side.
Ashford continued to ask all the questions of Horsham who appeared unable to impose themselves on the game, and after a lull in action, The Nuts and Bolts had their next chance on twenty-five minutes. A probing run deep inside The Hornet’s own half by Trey Williams was followed by an intelligent pass to slip the ball aside to Ajaja, however his low strike was off target and went wide of the post.
Eventually, Horsham managed to fashion a chance of their own a minute before the half-hour mark, when Chris Smith managed to drag his marker out wide with him, and create some space before swinging in a low cross for strike partner Rob O’Toole, but under close scrutiny from Afolabi Coker, he fired straight into Sam Mott’s gloves.
United however continued to edge the proceedings with Horsham thankful for the quick thinking of Pelling. A long ball out found skipper Sam Corne in a great position alone on the edge of the box, but failing to bring down the ball smoothly, the Horsham No. 1 clawed the danger away from the midfielder.
H/T: Horsham 0 Ashford United 0
Dom Di Paola’s decision to rejig his sides formation for the start of the second half appeared to give Horsham more of a cutting edge as things got underway for the second half, and it appeared to pay off immediately when Horsham thought they had taken the lead within three minutes. With Lee Harding pushed more centrally, he collected a ball in a dangerous position just outside the penalty area and after taking a couple of strides forward, he released a dangerous shot that Mott could only parry as Chris Smith converted the rebound. However, Horsham’s joy was short-lived as referee Garry Heron disallowed the goal after spotting assistant referee’s Abdul Olol late raised flag.
It appeared harsh on Horsham, but there were few complaints, yet any optimism that it might have served to spur Horsham on quickly disappointed as the half drew on and both teams continued to cancel the other out. Smith himself might have done better on sixty-nine minutes when this time he beat the Ashford defence as the flag stayed down, but he proved too greedy, firing into Mott from an acute angle when a square ball would have been a better option.
As time ticked on, Joe Shelley send a header over the bar following a corner, and as Di Paola brought on Tyrell Richardson-Brown hoping for a repeat supersub performance from the one in Kent, it failed to materialise as Horsham tired.
Late on, the visitors won a free kick in a dangerous position some twenty yards out, but Jake McIntyre failed to disturb Pelling who collected generally in his goalmouth, while Dylan Merchant capped a fine display from himself when he slid in to block from Ajala.
The Hornets now have five more matches remaining this season, resuming next weekend in our penultimate home game of the campaign against Sevenoaks Town.